July 22, 2021

Understanding Job Seeker Behavior

Paula Santonocito Headshot
Paula Santonocito
SENIOR MANAGER, RESEARCHER & WRITER
July 22, 2021

During a recent webinar, Recruiting News Alert: Job Seekers Behaving Oddly, Appcast CEO Chris Forman discussed what’s happening in the labor market.

Here are several key takeaways:

  • Candidate supply and demand are in balance, which should be good news.
  • Job seeker interest has increased since lows of mid-March 2021, which also should be good news.
  • Nevertheless, in a historical context, job seeker intent is down 25%.

Meanwhile, the labor shortage is exacerbated by the fact that quit rates in several key industries are up. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds Retail has been significantly impacted, as has Leisure and Hospitality, particularly the Accommodation and Food Services subsector.

So, why aren’t people interested in working?

A Census Pulse Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, asked the “reason for not working” question in September 2020 and again in May/June 2021. It turns out “concern about getting or spreading the coronavirus” is way down – there’s been a decline of 48.36% in people citing it as a reason.

Likewise for people citing “laid off or lost my job due to the coronavirus pandemic”; it has declined by 42.84%.

These numbers would suggest that people are eager to get back to work.

Several other reasons have increased, though, including:

  • I did not want to be employed at this time – increased by 17.83%
  • Coronavirus related sickness and/or care (children, elderly) – increased by 7.42%
  • I was sick (not coronavirus related) or disabled – increased by 26.98%
  • I am retired – increased by 11.72%
  • Other reason – increased by 12.39%

As for the “I am retired” category, it’s worth sharing this excerpt from a recent New York Times article:

“In the 15 months since the pandemic began, about 2.5 million Americans have retired, Mr. Daco* said. That’s about twice the number who retired in 2019, which means there are essentially 1.2 million fewer people in the work force over the age of 55 than would otherwise be expected.”

*Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics

There are various reasons job seekers aren’t looking for work. Arguably, however, it all comes down to the same reason: a shift in priorities.

How did the pandemic change people’s lives? In many ways, large and small. To state the obvious, it served as a reminder that life is short. For those who confronted illness, the lesson was especially powerful. But for those impacted by isolation and/or separation, who found themselves with additional time for reflection, there were realizations as well.

In a recent blog post, Katrina Kibben, CEO of Three Ears Media, a company that provides job posting assistance, said that 14 people had come out to her in the month of June.  

Is this merely a coincidence? Or is it that, when faced with the prospect of death, people choose to embrace their authentic self and become determined to live their truth?

As might be expected, this has implications for the employment experience. After all, work is about how people spend their limited time, and what they gain in return for the investment.

What can employers do, to address this shift in priorities as it relates to the labor market?

Recognize what human beings – yes, human beings, intentional choice of words – need at this particular point in time. Then, try and give it to them. Greater flexibility, more paid time off, a supportive workplace (onsite or virtual), and competitive compensation.

And understanding … for everything they’ve gone through and are still going through.

In the zeal to return to business as usual, don’t forget that this has been an unusual time.

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